Dietitians Unplugged Podcast – Episode 7: Making Peace With Exercise

Cover2Do you hate “exercise?” So do we! Sort of…Episode 7 is here, and in it, Aaron and I talk about how, after making peace with food, we’ve also made peace with our relationship to moving our bodies. We also talk about fitness trackers, our different approaches to getting activity in our lives, and why we actually hate the word “exercise!”

Here is The Atlantic magazine infographic we referred to during the podcast.

 

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Intuitive Exercise: Learning to Love Exercise Not on a Diet

Maybe tomorrow he’ll take a dance class.
In the years before I learned about Health at Every Size®, I exercised at a gym two to three times a week, cardio and weights. I mostly dreaded it and it wasn’t at all fun, but it was something  felt I had to do to keep my weight down. Living in San Francisco with no car, I walked everywhere as well, which was something I actually liked to do, but even that I thought of as Exercise with a capital E: something I did to control my weight.

When the revelation hit me that what I was doing with both my eating and my exercising was not first and foremost fun or pleasurable, I had to take pause. Because I am a fun person. Ask anyone, you want me at your party! And our time on this great blue marble is limited, so why, then, was I taking what little free time I had and spending it on not-fun activities?

Right about the time I decided to stop dieting restrictively, I also decided to quit Exercise (with a capital E) cold turkey. Reevaluating the choices I was making in my life, I realized that the pleasure I had once got from weight loss was long usurped by the misery of trying to maintain it. Quitting Exercise seemed extreme but it would help me to take a step back and decide what I really wanted to do for movement, or frankly, if I even wanted to do anything at all.

Taking a break from all that gym drudgery was heaven at first, but also a little alarming. I’d been a regular gym-goer for at least 10 years. What was I supposed to do now?? Of course I still walked around the city; I have always loved walking and didn’t want to give that up. But did I want to do something beyond walking?

Turns out, yes. After many months of being gym-free, I realized that I actually did enjoy going to a gym – when I wanted to. There was the key: going because I felt I had to was pure awfulness, but going just because I felt like getting sweaty felt like a luxury. No schedule. No strict regimen of so many minutes of cardio followed by so many reps and sets of weights. I got to do whatever I felt like: maybe a Zumba class, maybe yoga, or maybe still be that hamster on its wheel on the elliptical machine. That’s when going to the gym became a treat and not a chore. Since then, I’ve maintained a gym membership wherever I’ve lived but without the need to commit to X many nights a week. Ironically, that freedom has allowed me to attend even more than I thought I would. Movement makes me feel great and I think that is the best reason to do it.

Last year I challenged myself to find new and fun things to do outside of my regular activity. That led me first to a hula hooping class, where I learned a bunch of cool tricks that I continue to be able to do badly. Then, having been a pretty lousy swimmer most of my life, I decided to take swimming lessons. After that I spent the summer at the beach in the ocean. I rode a bike by the seaside for the first time in 15 years. Occasionally I hike in the beautiful hills surrounding LA. Frequently, I dance vigorously in my living room which feels best of all.

I also learned what I don’t want to do: Running of any sort. Belly dancing. Lifting super-heavy weights. Spinning or any kind of stationary bike. As I experiment, I’m sure this list will continue to grow too.

I’ll continue this trend of trying new (and old) things in 2015 with two rules: it has to make me feel good and I have to enjoy it.

It doesn’t have to be a gym or structured classes or anything that costs money. It doesn’t even need to be an activity anyone has ever heard of before. What matters — the thing that will make it wonderful and worth doing — is that you do it because it makes you feel amazing in that moment.

We could call it Intuitive Exercising. It reminds me how we move as children. No kid ever played hide and seek and then wondered after how many calories she burned. Let’s take a lesson from the kids we were and stop Exercising with a capital E and start moving for fun.

If Not Dieting…Then What? A HAES Primer

So far I’ve talked about not dieting. You might be thinking, well, if diets don’t work, what should I do to be healthy?

While there are many factors that affect health, many of them not entirely within our control, I like to focus on the factors we can influence, namely eating and exercise. The Health at Every Size (HAES®) philosophy helps us to do that. Here are the principles of HAES® from the Association for Size Diversity and Health’s website (sizediversityandhealth.org):

  1. Weight Inclusivity: Accept and respect the inherent diversity of body shapes and sizes and reject the idealizing or pathologizing of specific weights.
  2. Health Enhancement: Support health policies that improve and equalize access to information and services, and personal practices that improve human well-being, including attention to individual physical, economic, social, spiritual, emotional, and other needs.
  3. Respectful Care: Acknowledge our biases, and work to end weight discrimination, weight stigma, and weight bias. Provide information and services from an understanding that socio-economic status, race, gender, sexual orientation, age, and other identities impact weight stigma, and support environments that address these inequities.
  4. Eating for Well-being: Promote flexible, individualized eating based on hunger, satiety, nutritional needs, and pleasure, rather than any externally regulated eating plan focused on weight control.
  5. Life-Enhancing Movement: Support physical activities that allow people of all sizes, abilities, and interests to engage in enjoyable movement, to the degree that they choose.

If you’ve been living with a diet mindset, this can be a lot to digest (pun intended. Dietitian humor is the worst!). As a long-time dieter, my first reaction was “What?! Not eat for weight control? No way.” As it happens, I was pretty hungry the whole time I was learning about this and I think that’s probably what put the nail in the coffin of my dieting mentality. “You’re right!” I thought. “I don’t have to be hungry to be healthy!” I stopped my self-imposed famine then and there and have been feeding my appetite ever since.

The bottom line here is that HAES® takes the focus away from manipulating weight and puts it on behaviors that support health.

I have met some folks who want to know if they can incorporate HAES® into a weight-loss strategy. The answer is a resounding…no. HAES® and intentional weight loss efforts are mutually exclusive. Weight loss may happen as a result of a HAES® approach as your body seeks its way to a more natural weight for you, but making weight loss a focus of health changes will prevent you from finding peace with eating and self-image. In short, you’ll never get to a non-diet life if you keep focusing on your weight.

While HAES® is the overarching non-diet philosophy, I sometimes feel it doesn’t tell you exactly how to get there if you’ve been floundering in Dietland for a long time. This is where Intuitive Eating (also called attuned eating or normalized eating) comes in. I’ll talk about that in my next post!